I am old, but I’m definitely not one of those people who’ll tell you that music was somehow better ‘back in the day’. That said, I do feel like the whole post-metal, post-hardcore, and post-rock sphere hasn’t shown much innovation in a long, long time. It seems to me that a lot more bands used to explore the possibilities of that ‘post-’ prefix while reworking textures and timbres, and trampling genre boundaries. Nowadays, though, genuine adventurism feels like a rare fuckin’ treat.
It’s far more common to see post-whatever groups repeating the same old well-worn tropes ad infinitum. And the result is a gigantic pool of uninspired, formulaic, and utterly indistinguishable bands. That’s why you should pay close attention to an engaging band like Opium Eater. Because the Wellington, New Zealand-based group inject both energy and imagination into their full-length debut, Ennui.
Ennui’s musical palette mixes post-[insert your heavyweight choice here] with doomier psychedelic drone. Although, tagging Opium Eater’s sound as this or that probably isn’t as important as noting its temperament or impact. Still, if you do want a reference point or two, you can certainly hear the influence of bands like Isis, Neurosis, Earth or Intronaut on Opium Eater’s debut.
In saying that, although Opium Eater’s music features well-known stylistic hallmarks, the band also take steps to make a distinctive impression with Ennui. That’s entirely doable, of course. Groups like Amenra, BIG|BRAVE, Sannhet or Solstafir all clearly tick the box as post-something bands, but they still create fresh and even inventive music.
Closer to home, Wellington “atmospheric metal” group Spook the Horses have pushed well past their original (and more traditional) post-hardcore/rock beginnings. And I’m eagerly anticipating the band’s upcoming third album, People Used to Live Here, because it’ll likely show Spook the Horses taking creative risks once again.
Point being: that ‘post-’ prefix should indicate something intriguing is on offer, and while Opium Eater might dispute labelling their music post-anything, they do experiment with its form and scope. With three vocalists and multiple creative voices, Opium Eater clearly don’t suffer from a lack of ideas. Although, I felt the band’s first (single song) release, 2015’s Canis Major (The Greater Dog), didn’t really capture the band’s potential.
That’s not the case with Ennui though. It’s an absorbing, animated, and emotionally rewarding album —— that is, Opium Eater’s best attributes are vividly displayed. Epic and dynamic tracks like “The Effect of a Tragedy on its Spectators” and “Post-Tense” surge and subside over undulating terrain; all the while mixing sludgy riffage with moments of crushing heaviness and deep-set catharsis.
Elsewhere, “The Not-I” offers a shorter blast of dark mantric noise –– which I love, a lot. Songs like “Worry is at the Door” and “Collapse” deliver a lot of dexterity and shading, and their crashing crescendos highlight the palpable gravity of many of Ennui’s tracks.
What you’ll also hear on Ennui is a familiar soft/loud methodology at work, and in that sense the album isn’t breaking new ground. You can catch a glimpse of a few iconic, post-fuelled bands when Opium Eater shift from carving fathomless furrows into crafting ambient passages on Ennui. But that’s not any kind of distraction, and regardless of any notes of familiarity, songs like the album’s title track and “Babelsteps” still feature gripping and heartfelt performances. (And once those song’s sonic hooks are in, they’re not letting go.)
The bulk of Ennui features lengthy and intricate songs. So if you’ve got any qualms about long-form music, keep in mind that Ennui does require numerous listens to digest and fully appreciate. There’s a lot to unpack here, and none of it is lightweight fare. But that’s no bad thing. Because taking time to stop and listen only deepens the rewards.
Like any lengthy debut, parts of Ennui probably could have been trimmed or tidied up. Although, truthfully, the album’s storytelling is so tightly bound to its dramatic arrangements, and its instrumental narrative alone plays such a crucial role, it would be hard to judge where to crop or cut anything.
The tale that Ennui tells is one of darkness and light. There are definitely uplifting and picturesque scenes here. But there are also passages of harrowing music and atavistic howls that speak of grim desperation. Transformative and transcendent elements are all there in Opium Eater’s music though. And all those components are supported by Ennui’s emotion-charged production.
The bulk of the album was recorded and mixed by James Goldsmith at Blue Barn studio in Wellington. And then Ennui was handed over to be mastered by go-to burly sound-wizard Brad Boatright at Audiosiege. The album definitely sounds big and crunchy, and there’s a lot to admire in the counterpointing of gritty and more graceful songwriting. But, best of all, Ennui feels rough-edged and fucking alive.
Ennui clearly resides somewhere in that post-metal/rock/hardcore nexus. But as much as the album clearly exhibits some familiar hallmarks, it also displays a strong sense of adventurism and experimentation in compositional terms. Certainly, Ennui doesn’t feel boxed in by any genre or arbitrary creative restrictions, and Opium Eater show a willingness to explore the full dimensions of their sound while also embracing a wide range of influences.
Ultimately, those are all hugely encouraging factors, and hopefully they signal that Opium Eater will push even further forward creatively next time round. As it stands, Ennui is an immensely promising start. Opium Eater have poured their hearts into the album, and they’ve laid their souls bare along the way, and Ennui’s mix of expressive and journeying music ensures it’s an evocative and engrossing debut.
(Ennui is released on 12 October via label Art As Catharsis. The Sydney-based label is home to plenty of other post-fuelled bands, including New Zealand duo Into Orbit, who released their impressive sophomore album Unearthing earlier this year. I wholeheartedly recommend you check out the self-titled 2017 album from Tasmanian duo Omahara, released by Art As Catharsis in July; it’s one of this year’s best drone releases by a wide margin.)